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Our Country’s Good

by on 29 June 2022

Ours Is Better Than Good 

Our Country’s Good

by Timberlake Wertenbaker

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 2nd July

Review by Viola Selby

After spending two years in lockdown, where travel and social gatherings became nigh on impossible, Our Country’s Good is a breath of fresh sea air and a trip of a lifetime.

With a tense and eerie beginning that set us on our course for a play that would take us on an emotional rollercoaster, we were introduced to the cast of ten playing twenty characters quite quickly.  At first you may think that the audience would have to use a lot of imagination to identify one actor playing two completely different roles, such as a Scottish uptight Major and a friendly, funny Irish convict turned hangman or a brilliantly British upper class captain and an eccentric Cockney-wit convict, with the only costume change being a major’s to captain’s coat and wig, but with this casts’ incredible talent, each actor brings all the roles they play into life. 

Indeed, I have never seen a better or more convincing character change then that performed by Darren McIIroy as the Scottish Major Robbie Ross and Irish James ‘Ketch’ Freeman and by Charlie Golding as Captain David Collins and convict Robert Sideway. 

With their tremendous talents, I was transported on to a much more crowded ship then just ten individuals.  This awe-inspiring ability to make each character so lifelike, and able for the audience to connect with, was one shared by the whole cast, from Nigel Cole’s immensely impactful depiction of a sea-worn man going mad with guilt for assisting in another man’s hanging, to Heather Matthew’s hilarious yet relatable Danny Bryant.  Bryant is a character which could have easily been performed as a two dimensional clown but through Bryant’s exceptional efforts is made into a person the audience can truly empathise with and believe.

Similarly, the role of Liz Morden, a poverty stricken woman who has had to bite and bark to survive, could have been played as the typical hard bully but Dionne King breathes life into this poor creature so much so there could not have been a dry eye in the house when Morden was being measured for her noose.

However these are not just separately skilled individuals, together they create a family of talent, encapsulating the different relationships between each character and helping to depict each other’s character curves.  One particular scene that shows this enormously is where Major Robbie Ross is showing off and misusing his power over the convicts by de-humanising and embarrassing them to teach second lieutenant Ralph Clark, phenomenally portrayed by Jerome Kennedy, a lesson.  Ross gets Bryant to go on all fours and bark like a dog and Mary Brenham, excellently embodied by Rachael Rajah, to show a tattoo she has in a very private location.  In this scene, the audience drowns in the injustice and humiliation portrayed by the cast.  However, the audience and characters are saved when Sideway cleverly comes in and steals Ross’s attention through rehearsing his scene.  When he did this, I felt a wave of pride and relief hit the audience, making everyone feel a camaraderie with the convicts and those who wanted to help them with their new lives.

As well as the outstanding acting, the creative capabilities of the crew are phenomenal.  Through Matt Beresford’s direction, assisted by Douglas Schatz, the audience is almost part of the action without breaking the fourth wall.  For example, when Morden is being put on trial for her life, she is sat with her back to the audience with her jury sat in a semi-circle in front of her looking in our direction, helping us see what Morden sees emphasising the fear she must be in and the power of her jurors. 

Moreover, the simplicity of the stage layout, through the genius of Fiona Auty, adds to the overall atmosphere of the play.  For although the stage is only ever set with large wooden boxes and white sheets designed to look like sails, it truly does look like a ship and the stage, no matter how many of the cast are on, feels claustrophobic and busy, just as a ship like that would feel.  Similarly, the simple yet visually stunning costumes, designed by the tremendously talented Zoe Harvey-Lee, manage to also emphasise the atmosphere and feel of the show and in doing so deeply highlights not only the imbalance of power between the convicts and the officers, but also how they are both so similar, since it only takes a coat and wig to turn a man from a convict into a captain. 

Finally this show would not nearly be as dramatic and have you sitting on the edge of your seat in many scenes if it was not for the lighting used so effectively through the sublime skill of Colin Swinton assisted by Katie Barbarez.  Their use of the lights to create a whipping effect as one of the convicts is seen being flogged right at the beginning has you hooked from the get go.  And their use of red lighting makes Cole’s character’s mental turmoil scenes far darker and depressing as he descends more and more into his guilt.  This all creates one hell of a journey back in time, so sit back and join the other convicts for pure escapism you’ll never forget. 

Viola Selby, June 2022

Photography by Stephen Sitton

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